The Un-recipe Sauce

Last week, reader David Hudson told me that he saved the enchilada pie recipe I wrote about in a recent column and that he made his own enchilada sauce. Being a scratch ingredients kind of a gal, I wondered why I hadn’t thought to make my own. I asked David for the recipe and was very excited about the prospect of trying something new.

The recipe looked easy enough. Mix oil and flour together, add herbs and spices, and simmer it for a few minutes on low heat. Next, mix in tomato paste and add broth until the sauce is the right consistency. The recipe called for chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, oregano, cinnamon, and salt. Then it dawned on me. This was the perfect un-recipe! I could make the base then season it any which way I liked. In an Indian food mood? Add curry, garam masala, and tamarind paste. What about Spanish? My favorite spice lately is smoked paprika which adds a lovely rich and pungent flavor. It pairs well with garlic, cumin, oregano, lime, and honey. Creole? Worcestershire, garlic, tabasco, paprika, cayenne, thyme, oregano, and bay leaves. The possibilities are endless.

So many choices but . . . what if you make a mistake and your enthusiasm goes down the drain along with your sauce? I use Julia Child’s technique to do taste tests. Put a small amount of the sauce in a little bowl and add a dash or a splash of the seasoning in question and then taste. Gradually add in the flavoring to the big batch until you get it right. This way, you won’t risk ruining the whole thing. Now you can become a fearless international foodie! Italian! French! Freedom! The possibilities are endless. After you get the seasoning right, next time you can cook the herbs and spices with the oil and flour and that will intensify the flavors.

Un-Recipe Sauce
(adapted from

3 tbsp flour
3 tbsp oil
Dried herbs and spices
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups broth or bouillon
Splash of vinegar
Salt and pepper

Combine the flour and oil; softly simmer on low heat for a few minutes. Add the herbs and spices and cook until fragrant. Add the tomato paste, then the broth, raise the heat and bring to a simmer. Stir with a whisk until the sauce has thickened. A splash of vinegar at the end adds a subtle tanginess.

I need to make a disclaimer here. I haven’t tried all my suggestions but I think of it like this: the music of food. You can be a symphony conductor in your kitchen! Wing it, sing it, experiment, and have fun! You can’t go wrong with that, ever.